To Kill the Protagonist
As an author, one of the worst tasks is killing a protagonist.
You’ve spent, in most cases, years with this character, tormenting them, helping them grow, learning through their struggles. If you’re writing young adult novels as I do, you’re literally raising your characters.
But sometimes the awful circumstances you’ve written your character into means they have to die. There is no other way to save the world, no other exit from the maze. Death has become the only end.
It’s not pleasant, but it has to be done. So how do you kill them while maintaining the integrity of the story, respecting your characters, and respecting the readers you’ve lured into your protagonist’s life and death?
Aging in the epilogue does seem a bit extraneous. If you’ve seen them through to the end, do you need to see them on their death bed? I’m sure there are reasons to take that route, but I can definitely see why that choice wasn’t popular.
Glorious battle brings honor to a protagonist. They fought with everything they had, and the world the author built just could not let them win. Sure, there might be entrails and fire, but at least you know your hero did everything within honor’s bounds to survive.
But self-sacrifice, the noblest of all deaths, I think it would be my choice as well. To have the meaning that you imbued in your protagonist’s life follow them into death. To have the world reach on because of the ultimate sacrifice your hero made, it allows readers to grieve while being comforted that there is meaning behind their tears.
Sure, it might be a little tropish. Yes, it can sometimes be read from a mile away.
But if you’re going to invest years of your life as a writer—hours of your life as a reader—into the journey of a protagonist, their end becomes as important as the rest of their story. It’s the spoiler that will be leaked, the moment that will bring tears, and the heart-wrenching task only a writer can complete.
How would you choose to end your hero’s journey?
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